• Nate Adams

Review: Emotionally charged 'Robin's Wish' seeks to give answers


Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

Like any traumatizing or traumatic incident, anyone I’ve ever talked with can remember exactly what they were doing on August 11th, 2014 when they found out Robin Williams had died. An icon and comedic genius, the actor had entertained generations, starting in the aught days with stints on “Mork and Mindy,” followed by “Good Morning Vietnam.” I’ll never forget in my 12th grade English class the day we saw “Dead Poets Society” and being shocked that Williams was more than the Genie from “Aladdin” or the goofball from “Mrs. Doubtfire,” this man could ooze emotion and charm. He would go on to win Best Supporting Actor for “Good Will Hunting” in 1998, a well deserved accolade. 


The world stood in shock when the news broke that Williams had committed suicide. How could someone that emulated such joy and confidence in his work be depressed? The answer might not be what you think and in the new documentary “Robin’s Wish,” director Tylor Underwood attempts to uncover the truth behind Williams sudden death.  


The tabloids and media networks latched onto this idea that Williams was clinically depressed: they claimed he was sleeping in a separate bed from his wife, had been seeing a therapist regularly, and stopped doing comedy shows. While all that was true to an extent, it undermined what Williams was actually undergoing. Not to mention, if you ever delve deep into YouTube and find old interviews, it was rare for his sad side to not show up. The man had battled countless demons and alcoholism, using the death of longtime friend John Belushi as a wake-up call to get sober. 


But Williams didn’t die because of his depression. The truth is, he didn’t know, his wife didn’t know, and his doctors had diagnosed him with Parkinson’s and they, too, didn’t know. It wasn’t until a late autopsy report in the fall after his death, was it uncovered what was really going on inside his head. 


Pieced together with archival footage and exclusive new behind the scenes tidbits, “Robin’s Wish,” expands on William’s actual diagnosis: Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia, a disease that has no cure and is what actually killed the comedian. The film chronicles his decline, and insecurities, featuring insightful interviews with friends, neighbors, colleagues and his widow, Susan Schneider who is the beating heart of the doc. 


The film quickly montages through touchstones in the actor’s career. His early days at Juilliard where he studied Shakespeare and wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, his friendship with Christopher Reeve and Stanley Wilson (seen in an interview here). And his connection to stand-up and the Mill Valley theater where he still performed, occasionally, on a Tuesday night close to his Tiburon, California home. 


Among the interviewees, Shawn Levy - aside from Schneider - proves the most insightful as Williams was working on the final “Night at the Museum” picture when his brain started to go. Levy, for a while, had kept the shoot and decaying state of Williams to himself and here he decided to unveil what the actor was consistently thinking and his internal struggle of being “good enough.” Levy recounts a dozen times when he’d get calls late into the night from Willaims asking if what he shot the day before was any good. He clearly wasn’t himself. 

The main purpose of the documentary is to shed light on a disease not many understand, and to provide context to Williams' death. Suicide is one of the countless side effects to Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia, as it constantly rewires the brain to think in an altered state. 


But at only 78 minutes and some change, and a lack of interviews from his three children, “Robin’s Wish” is hardly the feature that does Williams’ career justice and I’m sure that’s somewhere in the pipeline. Plus you have to remember the ongoing legal battle that spewed between Schnider and her stepchildren, where the kids inherited most of the estate, which gives the film a different vibe than what’s presented on screen. 


Nevertheless, “Robin’s Wish” is more so about Robin’s disease, and what others observed of him in those final days, than a celebration of his life. The film features sound medical advice from experts in the field, and we walk out with a sense of closure surrounding his death. Which is more than what anyone was asking for. 


Grab the tissues. 


Grade: B+ 


ROBIN’S WISH will be available on VOD starting Tuesday September 1st.